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For use of the word in the New Testament and Christian theology, see Monogenēs.
Release poster
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Produced by E. Elias Merhige
Written by E. Elias Merhige
  • Brian Salzberg
  • Donna Dempsey
  • Stephen Charles Barry
Music by
  • Evan Albam
  • Diamanda Galas
Cinematography E. Elias Merhige
Edited by Noëlle Penraat
Release dates
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent
Budget $33,000 (estimated)

Begotten is a 1990 American experimental horror film, written, produced and directed by E. Elias Merhige.[1]

The film deals with the story of Genesis, re-imagining it. The second film of the unofficial trilogy, a 14-minute film entitled Din of Celestial Birds, deals with evolution. It premiered in 2006 on Turner Classic Movies, and was shot in similar visual fashion.[citation needed]


The story opens with a robed, profusely bleeding "God" disemboweling itself, with the act ultimately ending in its death. A woman, Mother Earth, emerges from its remains, arouses the body, and impregnates herself with its semen. Becoming pregnant, she wanders off into a vast and barren landscape. The pregnancy manifests in a fully grown convulsing man whom she leaves to his own devices. The "Son of Earth" meets a group of faceless nomads who seize him with what is either a very long umbilical cord or a rope. The Son of Earth vomits organic pieces, and the nomads excitedly accept these as gifts. The nomads finally bring the man to a fire and burn him. "Mother Earth" encounters the resurrected man and comforts him. She seizes the man with a similar umbilical cord. The nomads appear and proceed to rape her. Son of Earth is left to mourn over the lifeless body. A group of characters appear, carry her off and dismember her, later returning for Son of Earth. After he, too, is dismembered, the group buries the remains, planting the parts into the crust of the earth. The burial site becomes lush with flowers.


  • Brian Salzberg – God Killing Himself[2]
  • Donna Dempsey – Mother Earth
  • Stephen Charles Barry – Son of Earth



Begotten was written, produced, and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige. Development for the film began in 1984,[3] Merhige, who owned a small theatre production company in New York at the time, and had worked on several different experimental theatre productions up to that point and was working on developing his next project. Merhige had originally intended for the film to be a theatre production, "I originally thought of it as a dance theatre with live music piece that we would do at Lincoln Center", the directer recalls. It was only later after discovering that it would cost an exorbitant amount of money at a quarter of a million dollars to produce that Merhige decided to make the script into a motion picture. Merhige, who was twenty at the time he wrote the script, was inspired by the theories and ideas by Antony Barto, and German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche with whom Merhige felt had not been developed on film to the fullest extent.[4] The film incorporates many different religious themes and events from Christian and Slavic mythology including Creation, Mother Earth, and various other religious themes on which the events that take place in the film are loosely based upon.[3][5]


Filming took place over a period of three and a half years in several different locations, with Merhige filling multiple roles in the film's production including working on the film's cinematography, and special effects, the later of which he constructed an optical printer which he used for the film's special effects.[4] The film was shot using an 16mm Aeroflex camera on back and white reversal film filming Merhige would experiment with the film reel, going through multiple processes including running the unshot negative through sandpaper in order to scratch up the negative before shooting. Still unsatisfied with the overall effect, Merhige decided to use an optical printer but was unable to find one within the film's budget, so he constructed one himself using old and spare parts that he acquired from camera stores and special effects houses. The film was shot in several different locations with the majority of the film being shot for a period of 20 days on a construction site on the border between New York, and New Jersey where the makers had been given permission to film at.[4][5]


The film was later released on DVD in 2001 by World Artists.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reception for the film has been mostly positive. Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader praised the film calling it "a remarkable if not extremely upsetting and gory black-and-white experimental feature", further stating: "If you're squeamish you should avoid this like the plague; others may find it hard to shake off the artistry and originality of this visionary effort. And if you're looking to be freaked out you shouldn't pass it up."[8] Susan Sontag called it "one of the 10 most important films of modern times".[9] It holds a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, based on eight reviews.[10] The film is currently banned in Singapore.[11]

In 2012, Complex included Begotten on its list of 50 Most Disturbing Movies.[12]


  1. ^ Maslin, Janet (1991-06-05). "Begotten". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Cast and Crew information – Allmovie". 
  3. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Essman, Scott. "Interview: Elias Merhige (Begotten)". Scott Essman. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Maslin, Janet. "Begotten - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes -". New York Janet Maslin. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  6. ^ "Begotten (1991) - Releases - AllMovie". Allmovie. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Hall, Phil. "Begotten Not Forgotten". Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten | Chicago Reader". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Allmovie – Begotten". 
  10. ^ "Begotten (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  11. ^ "List of Banned Films". Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  12. ^ Barone, Matt; Serafino, Jason (17 August 2012). "The 50 Most Disturbing Movies". Complex. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 

External links[edit]